Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kray Twins: Brothers in Arms

He's My Brother

Suffolk is a county in the southeast of England. A generally flat, low-lying area, its primary economic activity is agriculture. About forty miles to the north east of London, is the market town of Sudbury. Lying between here and the site of Borley Rectory on the River Stour, once the most haunted house in England, was a farm that belonged to a friend of Reggie.

Two weeks before Ronnie walked out of the hospital, Reggie had towed a caravan here and hidden it in a wood on the farm property. Nearly a week after the escape, Ronnie left his hiding place in Walthamstow, North London, and Reggie drove him to the hideout. A young villain called Teddy was to stay with Ronnie, and act as his minder, bodyguard and keeper. They needed to stay under cover at least six weeks. Under prison regulations, any certified prisoner who remained at liberty as long as that, had to be re-certified on recapture. All Ronnie had to do was stay out of trouble and then give himself up in due course, when he could complete his sentence and be released within a year, at the most.

Ronnie could not settle in the countryside and insisted on trips back into the East End. Often he would go to The Double R and spend the evening drinking and partying with his friends. He would disguise himself and walk up and down the Whitechapel Road, deliberately seeking out policemen to walk past, knowing they were on the lookout for him. On one occasion he dressed in one of Reggie's suits and went drinking in a pub his brother often used.

"Evening, Reg. Any news of Ron?" people would ask him.

"No. Why? Have you seen him lately?" Ronnie would reply.

"We heard he's in town. Wish him luck if you see him."

But more and more he was getting moody and paranoid about people, and on one occasion offered to kill a troublesome neighbour for the man who owned the farm where he was hiding. The farmer, concerned about Ronnie's mood swings and obvious homicidal attitudes, organized for Ronnie to visit a psychiatrist he knew in Harley Street. After the visit, the doctor rang his friend, the farmer, and said, "I don't know who your friend is, but he's clearly homicidal. He shows all the signs of advanced paranoid schizophrenia. Get him to a hospital before something happens."

Then one day the police came visiting the farm checking on another escaped prisoner, one much more famous than Ronnie, Alfred Hinds. A career criminal, with an IQ of 150, he was always breaking out of prison. The farmer was able to convince the police that Hinds was nowhere near his farm, but Ronnie who had been hiding in the farmhouse had been dreading the police for weeks. He decided he must get away and would kill anyone who tried to stop him.

Reggie came for him and brought him back to London where he stayed with him in an apartment off the Bayswater Road. A doctor was called in to treat Ronnie who had deteriorated and was now in a dreadful state. He was drinking two bottles of gin a day, and this, plus his tranquillising drugs, had reduced him to a mental wreck.

After one particularly harrowing experience, involving a visit in disguise to Maidstone Gaol to visit an old friend, Ronnie attempted suicide. A family conference was called and the Krays made a decision that must have torn them apart. Against all that they believed in, their inviolable code of not co-operating or "grassing" to the law, they contacted Scotland Yard and arranged for the police to call the next morning at 2 a.m. to collect Ronnie. When they arrived, Ronnie went quietly without a glance at his family.

By a strange twist of fate, the original plan behind the escape now seemed to work. After a brief spell back at Long Grove, he was diagnosed fit to finish his prison sentence and in the spring of 1959, he was released from Wandsworth Gaol.

Reggie & Ronnie Kray
Reggie & Ronnie Kray

Reggie and Charlie picked him up and he was returned to the safety of Vallance Road. After further hospital treatment, he seemed to have passed out of the realm of madness into a border state of normality. He had become, however a very different man. He was moodier and much more erratic now, and as well as being suspicious of everyone, had become even more frightening, physically. His time in prison, the mental hospital and on the run had transposed his appearance. He was no longer an identical twin. His features had become much coarser, his neck and jaw line altered; the flesh around his eyes tightened in. He had turned into a monster.

Back at Vallance Road, Ronnie spent most of his time huddled next to the fire. Some weekends he would visit a farm in Wiltshire with a boyhood friend, Checker Berry, and lose himself in the countryside atmosphere, drinking and eating in a village pub, horse riding across meadows and wooded slopes. Violet was thrilled to have her boys back. Ronnie slept in the big back bedroom and Reggie used the smaller room off the second floor landing.

Ronnie started trying to get back into the business, but was more of an embarrassment than a help, threatening violence and demanding protection money from a gambling club that was part owned by Reggie. A meeting with the Italians over some delicate profit sharing details was abandoned after Ronnie stormed out of the meeting, cursing and harassing the other party.

Reggie in despair talked to an old friend and asked him, "What can I do about Ron? He's ruining us. I know we should drop him. But how can I? He's my brother and he's mad."

The twins and their differences in running the "Firm" became more apparent as Ronnie slowly, but surely, asserted himself. Reggie believed strongly in capitalising on their legitimate business contacts, Ronnie was all for rampaging through crime like the proverbial bull-in-a-china-shop.

A few months after Ronnie came back, there was a full-scale bar fight in The Hospital Tavern between the "Firm" and the Watney Street gang. The next day the newspapers were calling it the worst gang fight in the East End for years.

More and more Ronnie was dreaming of a gangland federation in London, uniting all of the scattered criminal groups under one command with himself as the alliance head. But as he planned and schemed, and created more opportunities to involve violence and terrorism on a grand scale, all the good work Reggie had done over the past three years was slowly crumbling around them. The billiard hall, their first headquarters closed down, under demolition orders from the local council. The income from The Double R and the gambling club in Wellington Way was barely covering the expenses of the twins.

In the summer of 1959, a man in London called Daniel Shay was living a prosperous life. He owned a car dealership and lived with his wife in an expensive apartment in Edgware. Although he was not a villain in the strict sense of the word, he was certainly "bent" with at least thirteen convictions, mainly for fraud. He met up with Ronnie and began boasting of his relationship with the Krays. On several occasions Ronnie borrowed money from him and somehow never got around to repaying it. Shay saw the twins for what they were, and perhaps a little of their bravado rubbed off on him.

Towards the end of Edgware Road, as it runs into the rich and affluent suburb of Hampstead, was a shop called Swiss Travel Goods. It was owned and run by a Pole called Murray Podro. Shay called in here one day in February 1960, and purchased an expensive briefcase, promising to return later to pay for it.

A few days later, Shay returned to the shop accompanied by the twins. For some obscure reason, he decided to try and extort Podro, and demanded a large sum of money after threatening to physically attack the shopkeeper. After he and the twins left, Podro called the police and reported the incident. When Shay returned two days later, hoping to collect the money, Reggie accompanied him. They were both arrested. After a trial at the Old Bailey, Shay went to prison for three years for trying to operate a protection racket, and Reggie was sentenced to eighteen months. Surprisingly, Ronnie was never mentioned in the case.

With Reggie out of action, Ronnie was in his element. Never mind that his ineptitude was costing the twins money. He was finally the sole boss of the "Firm." Arms were stockpiled at "Fort Vallance" and he bothered himself organizing and directing the skirmishes and minor conflicts that had always obsessed him. What use was a Colonel without troops and what use were troops without wars to fight? Living at home with Violet, planning his tactical strategies, free from any harassment from Reggie, or even Charlie who now left him completely alone, Ronnie would no doubt have traversed from one pub brawl to another. And then in autumn, he met Peter Rachman.


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